September 13, 2014–July 19, 2015

Playing with Paper

Japanese Toy Prints

Colorful 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints of games and toys.

By the middle of the 19th century, color woodblock printing in Japan was so widespread and inexpensive that it could profitably be used to make toys for children—which were no doubt enjoyed by many adults as well. This exhibition (one of the first of its kind outside Japan) will feature "toy prints" (asobi-e or omocha-e) such as colorful board games, paper dolls, cutout dioramas and pictorial riddles, as well as scenes showing how the toys and games were enjoyed. Thanks largely to the eclectic taste of William Sturgis Bigelow, the donor of over half of the Museum’s collection, the MFA has a fine assortment of these intriguing and unusual materials. In particular, a group of large paper board games by major 19th-century artists will be presented in pristine condition. 

Utagawa Kunisada I, The Scene of the Tōkaidō Board Game, from the Play Koi Nyōbō Somewake Tazuna, Japanese, Edo period, 1847–52. Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper. Bequest of William Perkins Babcock.

  • Japanese Prints Gallery (Gallery 278A)


With generous support from the Dr. Robert A. and Dr. Veronica Petersen Fund for Exhibitions.